Tennessee nonprofit advocacy organization helps cancer patients connect with survivors

Knoxville, Tenn. (WATE) – An East Tennessee nonprofit breast cancer advocacy organization provides information and support for people with the disease.

The non-profit association, Breast connection, started with a few friends who had battled breast cancer. The organization’s president, Nina Reineri, was diagnosed in 2011.

“A few years later, I had a couple of friends who were diagnosed around the same time, and a friend’s wife had breast cancer and hers came back metastatic, which means he’s spread and she died. And I think it was just the impetus of all of these things at the same time that made me think that maybe we could… maybe we could all get together for happy hour and have something where we could all chat,” Reineri said.

The group started with 14 women in 2014 and quickly grew to 40 people. However, after one of the youngest members died when his cancer returned in metastatic form, the band realized that getting together over a glass of wine wasn’t enough.

As the group gained more members between 2014 and 2015, they continued to meet and began creating a website with information for people newly diagnosed with breast cancer.

“We kind of asked the women who had been diagnosed, ‘What would you like to know that you didn’t know at the time?’ And they kind of helped, I mean, it’s a website and an organization that was built by survivors, so we use our hashtag #ForSurvivorsBySurvivors.

Some of the website resources include:

  • Information for newly diagnosed people
  • Questions to ask different doctors
  • What to bring to the hospital
  • Accessible resources for hospital, recovery, mental health and more
  • A glossary of breast cancer terms, including stages, types, receptors and abbreviations
  • Information for families, friends and caregivers

The non-profit organization also has a private Facebook group where anyone affected by breast cancer can share their experiences and advice. The group quickly opened the door to membership from members across the country, ending with 1,600 people in October 2022.

Now the group has a fellowship program for women, some survivors, to share their diagnoses under the breast cancer umbrella.

“The more we learned about breast cancer because we were all new, the more we learned that it’s a pretty complicated disease,” Reineri said. “So initially when you’re diagnosed, they test that tumor for receptors and there are three receptors, which are estrogen, progesterone and HER2/neu protein. Any of those three can be positive. or negative and according to all these diagnoses, everything is different.

Reineri added that additional factors decide the different treatment options for breast cancer.

“You can meet people with breast cancer and we can all be friends, but we can’t really advise each other if we haven’t been diagnosed with the same thing,” she said.

In the sorority program, women are matched with someone who has the same diagnosis to help them through the process. Women can choose the option to be a sister and pay her as a survivor or request a sister on the website. The database will match people based on diagnoses.

Breast Connect also offers flowers to women when they have surgery through a partnership with Random Acts of Flowers in Knox County and free mastectomy kits. Merchandise donations and sales are also used for giveaways.

“We’re eight years away, next year will be nine years away, and we’re getting big. Susan G. Komen has closed in many markets, including here, and the American Cancer Society has closed here, so we’re, pretty much when it comes to breast cancer, an organization here in Knoxville that truly advocates and helps women through their breast cancer journey.” Reineri said.

The World Cancer Research Fund International said breast cancer was the most common cancer in women worldwide, with more than 2.26 million new cases in 2020.

In Tennessee, 14 women are diagnosed with breast cancer and three die from it every day, according to 2014-2018 data from the Tennessee Department of Health. Although this disease mainly affects women, the American Cancer Society estimates that there will be 2,710 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in men and that 530 men will die of breast cancer.

This organization is important to people diagnosed with breast cancer, especially in Tennessee’s 16-county service area, as well as those who join from more remote areas.

Breast Connect is hosting a Friendsgiving holiday dinner on December 4th. Join the mailing list by visiting breastconnect.org and fill out a form at the top right of the page.

For more information about Breast Connect, visit their website or Facebook page.

Aubrey L. Morgan